The Federal Trade Commission has announced that it has settled on a $5 billion fine with Facebook following an investigation over how the company obtained data improperly from about 87 million Facebook users. The investigation has since included digging into facial recognition issues as well.
The FTC, via its Bureau of Consumer Protection, started to investigate Facebook back in March 2018, after it was revealed that the personal data of users had been sold to Cambridge Analytics, a data analytics firm, after they took an online personality quiz. But it wasn’t just Cambridge Analytica that took advantage of that information: the data was also used by a number of other developers without the users’ consent.
In addition to that, it was rumored that the data had been used to influence both the 2016 U.S presidential election as well as United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum.
The FTC’s formal complaint filed against Facebook stated at the time that the company “used deceptive disclosures and settings” which violated an existing agreement between Facebook and the FTC, which had been signed in 2012.
“The magnitude of the $5 billion penalty and sweeping conduct relief are unprecedented in the history of the FTC,” Chairman Joseph Simons said in a statement. “The relief is designed not only to punish future violations but, more importantly, to change Facebook’s entire privacy culture to decrease the likelihood of continued violations.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to his own Facebook page to issue a statement, following the settlement. There, he said that they have “agreed to pay a historic fine, but even more important, we’re going to make some major structural changes to how we build products and run this company. We have a responsibility to protect people’s privacy. We already work hard to live up to this responsibility, but now we’re going to set a completely new standard for our industry.”
Facebook, in addition to the eye-watering fine, has also agreed to a few other terms in addition to the civil penalty: the social media platform’s board will form a committee that will oversee privacy issues. This committee will be chaired by independent members which Zuckerberg cannot fire without going through a few other channels beforehand.
This committee will oversee other officials that will certify Facebook stands by the agreement it made with the FTC.
“False certifications would subject Mr. Zuckerberg and the [designated compliance officers] to personal liability, including civil and criminal penalties,” Simons said.
This particular fine is the largest civil penalty the FTC has ever enforced.